Slavia Prague (0) 0 Arsenal (3) 4
(Arsenal win 5-1 on aggregate)
UEFA Europa League, Quarter Final, Second Leg
Sinobo Stadium, U Slavie 1540, 100 00 Praha 10-Vršovice, Czech Republic
Thursday, 15th April 2021. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Pablo Marí, Granit Xhaka; Dani Ceballos, Thomas Partey; Nicolas Pépé, Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Mat Ryan, James Hillson, Hector Bellerin, Gabriel Magalhães, Willian Borges da Silva, Cédric Soares, Reiss Nelson, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli, Folarin Balogun, Miguel Azeez.
Scorers: Nicolas Pépé (18 mins), Alexandre Lacazette (21 min, 77 mins), Bukayo Saka (24 mins)
Yellow Cards: Gabriel Martinelli
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 39%
Referee: Cüneyt Çakir (Turkey)
Assistant Referees: Bahattin Duran (Turkey), Tarik Ongun (Turkey)
Fourth Official: Arda Kardesler (Turkey)
Referee Observer: Laurent Duhamel (France)
VAR Team (UEFA): VAR Abdulkadir Bitigen (Turkey); AVAR Mete Kalkavan (Turkey)
Attendance: A minimal amount of attendees (circa 300) due to coronavirus restrictions
For tonight’s crucial match, both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Martin Ødegaard failed to travel to Prague as neither passed a crucial fitness test; sadly in the case of the former, he has been diagnosed with malaria and has spent some time in hospital this week being treated for the disease, which he contrated whilst on international duty with Gabon. We wish him a speedy recovery. However, Emile Smith-Rowe is fit and resumes his place in this evening’s starting line-up. Let’s go!
The match started brightly with both sides testing each other’s goalkeepers quite early on, and as the players of either team were acutely aware, nothing less than a victory here will suffice. On our first foray into the Slavia Prague penalty area after fourteen minutes, Emile Smith-Rowe scored what appeared to be a perfectly decent goal, but after a VAR check, the goal was denied; however, just three minutes later, justice was served when Nicolas Pépé deftly crept sight unseen into the penalty area, moved into a superb position in order to receive an intelligent pass from Emile Smith-Rowe before rounding the goalkeeper and cracking the ball into the roof of the net. Just two minutes later, we were two goals ahead when Bukayo Saka was brought down in the Slavia Prague penalty area, and Alexandre Lacazette converted the subsequent penalty with great aplomb. Incredibly, on our next sortie on the Slavia Prague goal, Bukayo Saka jinked and juggled in the penalty area from the right wing, literally ghosted past a couple of Slavia Prague defenders, and as a large space opened up on the edge of the penalty area, he just simply picked his spot, wrong-footed the keeper and slotted the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. A superb goal, from a wonderful young player with a big future in front of him. Now, with the luxury of a three-goal cushion, we were playing the football we would like to play, being in complete control of the proceedings. However, the home side were not exactly feeling the love out there anymore, and were caught by the referee putting a few cynical and unnecessary tackles in on our chaps, and one suddenly got the impression that as the match advances, there may well be a couple or three players that will end up in Cüneyt Çakir’s book, or even worse. We’ll see. Towards the end of the first half, Slavia Prague appeared to wake up a bit and started to string a few good passes together, but really nothing to threaten Bernd Leno, and as the whistle blew for the end of the half, there was only one team out there tonight, and it was not Slavia Prague.
With no changes from Mikel Arteta to the team line-up for the second half, the match started farily sparkily enough, with Arsenal consolidating their lead by good game management, and sensible play. The home side were doing whatever they could to try to score, but every time they advanced into within twenty yards of our goal, the Arsenal defence sprung into action and neutralised the threat adequately. As predicted, Slavia Prague started to get frustrated, and the match got a wee bit scrappy in places with silly tackles and off-the-ball incidents on our players, but thankfully nobody appeared to react too badly. Alexandre Lacazette should have scored, but his legs were taken out from under him by way of a sliding tackle, but incredibly a penalty appeal was denied by the referee. Emile Smith-Rowe made way for Mohamed Elneny after sixty-six minutes, and the match returned to as it was earlier, with Arsenal controlling the game extremely well. With thirteen minutes of the match remaining, Granit Xhaka and Nicolas Pépé combined down the left-hand side before Nicolas Pépé slotted the ball to Alexandre Lacazette in the middle of the penalty area. He took his time, controlled the ball, rolled it under his foot, side-stepped a defender, and whacked the ball past the hapless goalkeeper and into the net, to score our fourth goal of the night. Just after the goal, Mikel Arteta made a triple substitution; Alexandre Lacazette, Bukayo Saka and Thomas Partey were replaced by Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli and Cédric Soares with just twelve minutes of the match remaining. And still we kept coming, hungry for more goals. Gabriel Martinelli was desperately unlucky not to score after some great build-up play; Nicolas Pépé was replaced by Folarin Balogun with just two minutes of normal time remaining in order to rest tired legs and to give a much-talked about young man a run-out in the final minute of the match, which ended up with us victorious by four goals to nil on the night, five goals to one on aggregate. Perfect.
What a night, what a performance! And a semi-final appearance against Villareal, who happen to be managed by Unai Emery as well. Three goals in six minutes utterly broke the spirit of Slavia Prague, and as a team, it was totally different to the one we saw in London a week ago, with a good team performance, superb game management and an unstoppable desire to win. Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette and Emile Smith-Rowe were outstanding tonight, with Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka more than holding their own in midfield too. Makes you wonder why we don’t play like that more often! A superb evening for everyone concerned.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Fulham at the Emirates on Sunday, 18th April at 1.30pm (Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.